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MSHA News Release No. 2001-0717
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Rodney Brown
Phone: (703) 235-1452

Released Tuesday, July 17, 2001

MSHA Report on Second Willow Creek Mine Explosion Available

The Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has issued its investigative report into the explosion at the Willow Creek Mine, an underground coal mine located in Carbon County, Utah. The accident claimed the lives of two miners and injured eight others on July 31, 2000. MSHA investigators determined that the ventilation system at Willow Creek did not adequately dilute concentrations of explosive methane gas, which was ignited in a series of four explosions within a 30-minute period.

"This report will provide the mining industry with vital information in order to assist in preventing another such mine disaster," said Dave D. Lauriski, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "Hopefully the facts we have learned here will prevent such occurrences in the future."

Beginning at 11:48 p.m. on July 31, 2000, a series of four explosions occurred underground on the longwall mining section. The most likely cause of the first explosion was an ignition of methane gas caused by falling rock in the worked-out area of the longwall panel. (Falling rock in the worked-out area is a normal, expected event in the longwall mining process.) A fire ensued. Miners, believing that the forces they felt were the result of a massive roof fall in the worked-out area, began to fight the fire. Fire fighting efforts were not successful and conditions worsened in the face area. Hydrocarbons present in the mine caught fire, igniting explosive concentrations of methane. Two closely spaced explosions occurred at about 11:55 p.m. A fourth explosion occurred at 12:17 a.m. on August 1. The investigation determined that two fatalities occurred as a result of the second and third explosions and that fire caused by the initial explosion provided the ignition source for the subsequent explosions.

The injured and the deceased miners were brought to the surface by mine rescue teams by 4 a.m. Because the fire appeared to be gaining intensity, it was decided to seal the mine. All surface openings were sealed by approximately 10:30 a.m. on August 1, 2000. The Willow Creek Mine has not been reopened.

An earlier accident involving a fire had occurred at the Willow Creek Mine on Nov. 25, 1998, during retreat of the mine's initial long wall panel. All miners were evacuated safely during that incident and the mine was sealed at the surface. Recovery efforts continued until Nov. 15, 1999, when the mine returned to normal operations until the July 31, 2000, explosion.

The full report on the Willow Creek explosion can be obtained from the contact listed on this News Release or by accessing the MSHA homepage at www.msha.gov.